The County of Northumberland is full of Public Footpaths, Byways , Bridleways, Green Roads and Lonnens that give a huge amount of pleasure to everyone from the daily dog walker to the keenest long distance trail explorer. At the latest meeting of Glendale Local History Society held on December 11th members learned how our rich network of Rights of Way came about, how to learn more about them and how to discover more to add to the list.
The speaker was Sue Rodgers and in a talk entitled "Restoring the Record in Northumberland – Historical Paths and Tracks" Sue, with the benefit of a lifetime of private and professional interest in the subject made her audience aware that our historic "Rights Of Way" have origins that go back hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. Ancient tracks from pre-history, Roman roads, Drove roads, Packhorse and Peddlers' routes, even paths made by schoolchildren on their way to lessons have all contributed to what we take somewhat for granted. Now mainly part of our leisure activity Sue pointed out that in former times man rarely walked or rode for pleasure – there was usually some purpose behind it. Routes went somewhere significant, perhaps to a livestock fair or a mill and had indicative names such Salter's Drove or Jingling Gate - jingling coming from the bells that driven cattle wore. Ways were often defined by planted trees, hawthorn hedges, walls or embankments. Standing stones or clumps of Scots pines were used as way markers.
Sue then drew our attention to the legal status of Rights of Way. After the second world war, in response to pressure from groups such as the Rambler's Association the government decided upon a Rights of Way Act so in 1949 all parishes in England and Wales were instructed to register all tracks then in use. These were subsequently recorded on Ordnance Survey maps. Further additions and modifications were made in 1981. Since then the situation has remained stable and it was thought that the maxim "once a highway always a highway" would persist forever. However Sue made her audience aware that in 2026 the situation is changing. After then no more Rights of Way will be eligible for registration so her advice was to become "Landscape Detectives" and use the clues provided on the ground and on ancient maps and plans to ensure that our rich heritage of Rights of Way are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.